Today’s post is good-cause themed and to start, I’d like to share a very public dance instruction video I just recorded in Shibuya, Tokyo to raise money for Japan’s earthquake relief as well as the causes below. If you are receiving this article in an email and don’t see the video, click here to go to the actual post.
Timothy Ferriss is also offering a dollar for dollar match on a library building project, which is a no-brainer if you’re feeling the need to make a difference. I’ve seen foreign-funded schools and libraries built in the most remote places (e.g. 5 day trek into the middle of the Himalayas). Trust me, they make a difference. Moreover, his post triggered me to finish a half-written article I had sitting on my phone.
For those of you who have been following me on Twitter or Facebook, you probably know that I have spent some time in the past few months in Myanmar (Burma). Now that I’ve left the country, I can freely write about some of my reflections from my travels, albeit I run the risk of being banned from the country.
Myanmar was beautiful to visit, but my most memorable moments were not the sights I saw but my experiences with the people there. The Burmese people are genuinely honest and friendly, and for such an incredibly poor country, you’d discover that it’s surprisingly safe (well, except for the roads). It was really easy to interact with the people, and I found myself sharing my dance moves with the eager youth along with putting on the occasional village-gathering magic show.
However, through my conversations, I have shamefully discovered and confess that I have taken my education for granted. I know I’ve divulged in previous posts that I have some doubts on the usefulness of some facets of higher education, but basic education should be universally available and free to all.
In Myanmar, unfortunately, it’s not.
In a country where the average person lives on approximately $1 per day, tuition that costs $100 a year and up is flat-out unaffordable. On the surface, primary school is compulsory until age 9 (which is well below the international standard), but the reality is that parents have to pay school maintenance fees that start around $100 and increase each year. Families try their best to scrape enough money to send their children to primary school, but much of the population (and the people I met) do not have education beyond the primary school level.
As a result, I uncomfortably witnessed ever-widening gaps in the wealth distribution (politics aside). A few uber-rich bourgeois. Most of the population? Poor and playing lapdog to tourists and the aforementioned. And yet, I saw so much potential in the Burmese people.
Some of you may be aware that politics and a military dictatorship bar foreign visitors from doing much to help, but we should never lose hope. Here are some links to some charities that do have their foot in Myanmar:
Coming back full circle, often times we feel constantly caught up and frustrated with the small things and forgot how much opportunity and conveniences we actually have. A few weeks ago, I noticed through the Facebook feed that back at home, Toronto was going through a 3-day heat wave, and people were furiously complaining about something that couldn’t be changed.
All the while, it was more-or-less the same weather in Myanmar, except most of us could not escape the oppressing heat into an air conditioned store or building due to general non-availability of air conditioning and daily power outages. I wanted to tweet out a gratitude reminder, but another thing I didn’t have was Internet – it already took me 5 minutes just to load my Facebook home page due to 1990’s Internet speed-levels and general censorship.
Most importantly, our opportunities stem from the education we all have access to. We take for granted our opportunities and don’t see them just as we take for granted our education and forget where we’ve come from. For example, during my stay in Myanmar, I noticed that whoever could get a website running on their tourist service would have a huge leverage in their industry, yet it’s nearly impossible for the average citizen to do this because of something as simple as not having access to a computer. Relative to us, information access there is in the dark ages.
Conversely, back at home, I hear many people lament that they don’t have a website because of their lack of Internet knowledge, but the reality is that setting up a website simply involves a credit card, a few mouse clicks, and having a hosting website do all the work. With information ridiculously (and excessively) abundant around us, not acting is simply laziness, willful ignorance, or a combination of both.
So that’s my reminder to you. Maybe right now, your life situation isn’t optimal, and you don’t have everything you want. But you have the foundation. You have education. You have easy access to more education and information, which includes self-learning (which forms the core of my current learning). You really do have the opportunity to create your life. And when things do start materializing, recognize your small successes early – don’t take them for granted. Be grateful for where you’ve come from and remember to spread the karma and give back.
On a final note, if you are planning to visit Myanmar anytime soon, I need a favor that’s a little guerrilla mission type. I met a young girl whose father had died, could not longer go to school, and had to work. To make ends meet, she was selling souvenirs like many other kids. However, the day I met her, I could feel that she didn’t really want to be touting, so I parlayed our meeting into a conversation. As I spoke with her, I was surprised at how good her English was,much of it learned from an old dictionary I saw her clutching. I could also see how eager she was to learn more.
That night, I searched the nearest town for books at her reading level but was unsuccessful. She has so much potential, and it breaks my heart to see it go to waste. I want to get some books out to her. I’ll buy the books. You bring them to her.